True Service

Patricia Keehan, mother to Fr Terry.
Patricia Keehan, mother to Fr Terry.
6/13/1924 – 9/17/2017

Wow! What a week. We have been planning Fall Fest and Hops on the Vine for many months and we celebrated so well on Friday and Saturday. Thanks to everyone who planned, carried out, supported and attended the events. I am unbelievably humbled to have received the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin “In Service of One Another” Award from Mundelein Seminary on Thursday. Thanks to all of the people at each parish and in the Vocation Office that have taught me about true service. Then my mom, Pat, went home to the Lord last Sunday afternoon after a long struggle with dementia. I have never experienced a bigger roller coaster ride of emotions. Great fun, humbling honor and then sadness and grief, all rolled into one week!  The thing that tied it all together was and is community.  We are in all of this together!

My dad Bill passed away 11 years ago, and even as he was declining in health he shared with us five boys that my mom was beginning to lose her memory. She never had Alzheimer’s but experienced a slow steady loss of her memory. At first, she would forget things that happened in the recent past, but was still sharp on her recall of things, especially important events that happened years ago. Eventually though, even those eluded her. I know that so many of you have shared a similar journey with loved ones. It is sad to watch, but every time I felt that sadness I tried to put myself in my mom’s shoes—it must have been even harder for her.

The sadness to me is that her story is at risk of fading. She had a great and powerful story beginning in Cincinnati, Ohio. She was born on Friday the 13th of June, 1924. Many people associate Friday the 13th with a lack of luck. Anytime anyone would infer that she might be unlucky because of her birth date, Mom would simply say, “That’s a bunch of BS.”

Her dad John was a plumber and her mom Catherine was a homemaker. My mom’s older brother John met and married a girl named Ann from Brooklyn right after WW II ended and he settled in Long Island, New York. My mom was baptized at Holy Family Church in Cincinnati, Ohio and went to grade school with my dad, although they didn’t really know each other. She attended Seton High school and immediately after graduation sought to enter nursing school along with her close friend Dotty. They were asked to take a summer course in math before entering the nursing program at the Catholic hospital.  They were eager to start immediately so they applied to, and were accepted at, the Jewish Hospital’s program where they started their RN training immediately. The year was 1942 and we were in the midst of WW II. As soon as she finished nursing school she went to work at a make-shift hospital in eastern Ohio treating injured US soldiers.

Following the war she went to work for two young, ambitious doctors in their office. It was at that time that the young, struggling doctors realized how much Mom had helped them and on the elevator going home one night, one of the doctors said to her, “Pat, you are a jewel,” and the other continued, “A jewel of purest ray serene.” Undoubtedly motivated by a line in a poem by Thomas Gray, and until the day she died, my mom not only remembered those words but shared them as affirmation over and over and over again.  She called us boys jewels, along with her daughter-in-laws, grandkids and great grandkids, our friends, fellow nurses that cared for her, eventually just about anybody who had a positive impact on her life.

My mom and dad met on a blind date and even though they had vague memories of attending the same grade school, needless to say my dad was quite surprised at the beautiful woman that mom had grown into. They were married in 1948 while my dad was still in the Navy and my oldest TWIN brothers, Jack and Bill, were born at the Naval Hospital in San Diego, CA.  My dad was sent to Alaska for several months, so here is mom, 3,000 miles from home with twin babies and a husband who was away. It proved to strengthen her as they moved back to Cincinnati, and then a transfer to Kentucky for my dad, who was a rising star then with International Harvester Company selling big trucks. Mark, and then I, came along, followed by a series of events that make this week of mine look like a small roller coaster. We moved into a new house in Cincinnati in May of 1964, my brother Mike was born June 7, my mom turned 40 on June 13, her dad passed away on July 4 and my dad was transferred to California in November.

My grandmother came to live with us and, again, my mom found herself 3,000 miles away from home with five kids, her grieving mother who had never been west of Cincinnati, and a husband who traveled Monday to Friday 48 out of 52 weeks a year.

My mom rose to the challenges putting Mike in a baby stroller and walking the neighborhood in search of other young mothers. When she saw a house with toys or a baby buggy in front, she rang the doorbell and introduced herself. If she was depressed or missed her family and friends back in Cincinnati, it was hard to tell.  Her perpetual smile and fun-loving spirit always rose to the top.

Three years later we moved to Arlington Heights.  She and my dad not only went to church, they were involved in ministries, and both took leadership roles at St. James in Arlington Heights. She attended more sporting events for us kids than any woman I know. She survived colon cancer in 1972 and was always, ALWAYS a kind, grateful and loving presence for us boys and anyone else she met.

In the last few years of living at Lake Barrington Woods and Silverado in Lake Zurich, her decline in memory and awareness has never, EVER robbed us of her gentle, non-judgmental and kind soul. Every resident and employee of those homes has been touched by her character and her gratitude. I only wish more of you could have appreciated the gem that she was. Thanks Mom. You’re a jewel!!!